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Fwd: Broad Coalition Files Challenge to New Federal Net Censorship Law

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> From: Electronic Privacy Information Center <info@epic.org>
> To: Press <info@epic.org>
> Subject: Groups Sue to Block Net Censorship Law
> Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 10:53:38 -0500

ACLU v. Reno, Round 2:
Broad Coalition Files Challenge
to New Federal Net Censorship Law

Thursday, October 22, 1998

CONTACT: Emily Whitfield, ACLU Nat'l (212) 549-2566
Stefan Presser, ACLU of PA, (215) 592-1513
David Sobel, EPIC, (202) 544-9240
Barry Steinhardt, EFF, (203) 981-3025-cell phone
Alex Fowler, EFF, (415) 436-9333 x 103

PHILADELPHIA--Civil liberties groups today announced a court challenge
to a federal Internet censorship bill signed by President Clinton
despite serious constitutional concerns raised by his own Justice

At a news conference in downtown Philadelphia, the American Civil
Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Electronic
Frontier Foundation said the Justice Department was correct in warning
that the law unconstitutionally censors valuable online speech.

In papers filed this morning in federal District Court in Philadelphia,
the groups are seeking an injunction against the new law, which is
scheduled to go into effect 30 days from the date it was signed.

Demonstrating the range of speech affected, the list of plaintiffs
includes the Internet Content Coalition, a member group including Time
Inc., Warner Bros., C/NET and The New York Times Online; OBGYN.Net, a
women's health website; Philadelphia Gay News; Salon Magazine; and the
ACLU on behalf of its members including poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and
ACLU President Nadine Strossen  (complete plaintiff list below).

In February 1996, ACLU, EFF and EPIC filed a challenge to the ill-fated
Communications Decency Act.  A three-judge panel in the same federal
district court struck down the law in June, a ruling that was upheld by
a unanimous Supreme Court one year later.

The so-called "Child Online Protection Act" makes it a federal crime to
"knowingly" communicate "for commercial purposes" material considered
"harmful to minors."  Penalties include fines of up to $50,000 for each
day of  violation, and up to six months in prison if convicted of a
crime.  The government also has the option to bring a civil suit against
individuals under a lower standard of proof, with the same financial
penalty of up to $50,000 per violation.

Despite lawmakers' claims that the bill is "narrowly tailored" to apply
only to minors, ACLU Staff Attorney Ann Beeson said that the
constitutional flaws in this law are identical to the flaws that led the
Supreme Court to strike down the CDA.

"Whether you call it the ęCommunications Decency Act' or the ęCongress
Doesn't Understand the Internet Act,' it is still unconstitutional and
it still reduces the Internet to what is fit for a six-year-old," said
Beeson, a member of the original ACLU v. Reno legal team.

Although proponents claim that the law applies only to commercial
websites, nonetheless, the groups said in legal papers, the law "bans a
wide range of protected expression that is provided for free on the Web
by organizations and entities who also happen to be communicating on the
Web ęfor commercial purposes.'"

The 17 plaintiffs represented in ACLU v. Reno II  are: American Civil
Liberties Union (on behalf of all its members including Nadine Strossen,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Patricia Nell Warren and David Bunnell); A
Different Light Bookstore; American Booksellers Foundation for Free
Expression; ArtNet; The Blackstripe; Condomania; Electronic Frontier
Foundation (on behalf of all its members including Bill Boushka, Jon
Noring, Open Enterprises Cooperative and Rufus Griscom) ; Electronic
Privacy Information Center;  Free Speech Media, LLC; Internet Content
Coalition (whose members include CBS New Media, Time Inc., The New York
Times Electronic Media Company, C/Net,  Warner Bros. Online, MSNBC,
Playboy Enterprises, Sony Online and ZDNet); OBGYN.NET; Philadelphia Gay
News; PlanetOut Corporation; Powell's Bookstore; RIOTGRRL; Salon
Magazine; Weststock.com.

In a seven-page analysis of the bill sent to President Clinton on
October 5, the Justice Department said that the bill had "serious
constitutional problems" and would likely draw resources away from more
important law enforcement efforts such as tracking down hard-core child
pornographers and child predators.

Also, the Justice Department noted, the new law is ineffective because
minors would still be able to access news groups or Internet relay chat
channels, as well as any website generated from outside of the United

"It is our fervent hope," said Barry Steinhardt, President of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, "that Attorney General Reno will concede
that the new law is unconstitutional so we can avoid prolonged

"The First Amendment still stands," he added.  "A law that the Justice
Department found unconstitutional last week did not suddenly become
constitutional this week."

David Sobel, EPIC's Legal Counsel, said that making children the excuse
for ill-conceived censorship schemes is poor public policy.

"Congress has demonstrated that, when it comes to the Internet, it's
prepared to score easy political points at the expense of constitutional

"I'm confident that the courts will again faithfully apply the
Constitution to this new medium," he added.  "Let's find ways to protect
both kids and the First Amendment."

The three groups continue to jointly sponsor the Blue Ribbon Campaign
for Online Freedom of Expression -- first launched in 1996 to mobilize
the Internet community against the CDA -- to provide Netizens a platform
for voicing their concerns over continuing governmental attempts to
censor the Internet.  Visitors to the Campaign site can fax Attorney
General Janet Reno a "don't enforce the new law" message and join the
campaign by exhibiting the Blue Ribbon logo on their own Web sites.
More information is available at http://www.eff.org/br.

Attorneys in the case are Ann Beeson, Chris Hansen and J.C. Salyer of
the ACLU, Shari Steele of EFF and David Sobel of EPIC.  The law firm of
Latham and Watkins is assisting the ACLU in the case.

Legal papers in the case can be accessed on the websites of all three
legal organizations at http://www.aclu.org. http://www.eff.org and
http://www.epic.org. [The URL for the Complaint at the EPIC website is:
http://www.epic.org/free_speech/copa/complaint.html ]

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nationwide, non-partisan
organization headquartered in New York City, dedicated to defending and
preserving the Bill of Rights for all individuals through litigation,
legislation and public education.

Founded in 1990 as a nonprofit, public interest organization, Electronic
Frontier Foundation is based in San Francisco, California and maintains
an extensive archive of information on free speech, privacy, and
encryption policy on its website.

Electronic Privacy Information Center is a non-profit research group
that works to defend free speech and privacy rights on the Internet.


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